I think one day I would rest happy if I could publish a work, any work, one work, of science fiction or fantasy. And they call them “works” because, well, you have to work at them, and as an individual far more prone to watching an episode of Star Trek than sitting down to write, I have trouble working on things that don’t involve deadlines set by other people.
But tonight I could not sleep, and I could not sleep because I’ve been tossing around some things in my head and on paper for a while now that needed expression. The results are below the jump: this is a chapter in a larger work I’m trying to put together, but it stands alone and I thought was pretty good. I would appreciate any thoughts you have. Especially you, Adam.
Speaking of Adam, check out his blog.
Alright, to what I banged out tonight.
…E’en so on this, the fertile sod
shall we become the living god:
we do not strive to look above
towards gems that twinkle without love…
–Processional Hymn #442
Silas was a heretic. By night he would slink away from his post at the great tower, waiting until the ultimator was fast asleep. He had learned to love this ritual best: staring vacantly into the blazing lantern suspended against the darkness, filled with coals that burned dull red, the wood at the top flaming up to produce tongues of fire that penetrated the metal grate over and over, divine erotic exploration. Silas knew the gods of his mothers, the gods of these meditation fires, to be real. He worshipped them well.
Fire was a process, spoke the ancient purveyors of the Beckamain Chiasm. They told of how it began with inert matter, resting cold and then bursting forth from its internal passions. The Orthodox discerned truth in the motion of the coals as the flames spread, the sudden shower of sparks as a wooden prop, eaten slowly from within, burst and collapsed. The flames would then rise in fury before subsiding again to duller wrath, and then at last everything cooled again to dull matter, life inert in ashes, yet a life that had been gathered towards purpose in its burning.
And so Silas watched the meditation fires, seeking in them the same counsel that thousands before him had sought, a model to see the gods in the meditation towers and the fires, to turn your eyes on them and not the stars that shone cold and lifeless above. It was the process of life borne out over hours, a commandment to live in a similar fashion, a life that provides succour, light, healing, warmth, but directed with the knowledge that cooling ash was a final end. Silas believed all these things, for they were written in the Chiasm. And yet…
Silas was a heretic.
He loved also the second part of his ritual, the part that took him away in the middle hours of the night, right after the first ultimator shook Silas awake and drifted immediately to his own slumber. It was the perfect time, and Silas would rise after the prescribed ablutions, executed with the a pristine, pious precision, and descend the staircase slowly. As he did his eyes adjusted, not to darkness, but to new light.
For in that darkness beyond the fires that guarded the night, Silas found not-darkness. He had discovered it on accident, burning himself one night on the brass lantern as he stoked the flame as his watch began. Had he known then that he was about to become a heretic, that he would look up and see and in that seeing know reality and in that reality know that it was inexpressible, he might have borne with the pain and gone to the poultisserie in the morning. But his cry awoke his fellow ultimator, and though the woman was tired she offered to take his shift while Silas went to wake the poulticer.
And so Silas went. Halfway across the yard he felt something move within him; the light changed, or the sounds of the night created some barely perceptible confluence of emotions in him, and all the things of the world seemed to collapse in the moment when, still a child, though he held a rank above all other children, Silas looked up.
He looked up and saw a different light, a different vision from the fires that danced by night and arrested the meditations of the ultimators. The moon was strung across with diaphanous clouds like thin skeins of cotton that were occasionally used to light the meditation-fires, and it looked especially like that moment just before they were consumed, when the light of the flames had spread through the fibers and infused them for a moment with the awareness of their own mortality. The moon hung half-full, and it was so enwreathed as to let the skies around it become alit. As the diffuse light settled into his eyes, for the first time Silas saw the stars for what they were: voices that cry with their own trebles and tenors, harpstrings strung like beaded spiderwebs against the rain.
And so Silas became a heretic. The Chiastic Concord had lauded the sun, seeing in it a great fire that they assumed had been born like the meditation fires and would one day die in a similar fashion. And so they proclaimed it a process that modeled life and was worthy of veneration: rightly so. They praised the moon for its cycles, arrayed as they were progressively changing, though the stalwart Agandamere, son of Baudelaire, denounced the Moon for cycles that did not change with enough chaos, perceiving that in cyclic order it was actually a vessel of being and not becoming.
But the stars had been denounced universally, symbol and reminder of the true magic that holds all hearts in thrall, for their steadfast regularity, their pure bejeweled form; they seemed to taunt the Triumph and mock the Rule of Beckamain. And so adoration of the stars, ancient before ancient days had faded, was abolished.
But Silas now adored them. He walked quietly across the yard that night after leaving the poultisserie, and then as now he lay on his back and watched them swing, watched the way they sparkled never twice the same way, how clouds moved across them, how if one was watched long enough juxtaposition with another they would appear to dance, moving apart and coming together in a way that just flirted with reality; a moment so obvious even though nothing could have moved. Yet he saw that in them everything move, and watching the spin of stars on those nights he was not an ultimator, Silas felt himself dizzied and complete, as if he were the center of a great whirlpool into which all reality rushed past, truth and lies and ugliness and beauty all hurled together into reality that drowned him even as it worked his rebirth.
He rose to slink quietly back to his post and wake the next sentinel. But tonight, unlike those other nights since the day he first became a heretic, another figure rose with him, from the undergrowth and bushes near his hiding spot, and in a loud voice, spoke firmly the words he had only just begun to imagine he might one day hear. He had never guessed it would come so soon.
“Silas, Ultimator of Beckamain, Heretic to the Chiasm. You are under arrest.”